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Book review: 'Essential Desires' chronicles emergence of Thai contemporary art

Brian Curtin's illustrated survey traces internationalization and internal divisions

The title “Essential Desires” encapsulates some of the book’s aims: to resist fixed, essentialist definitions of Thai art and to review the many artistic desires and impulses that have underpinned it since the 1990s. (Nikkei montage/Source photos courtesy of Reaktion Books and Michael Shaowanasai, left, and, right, Vasan Sitthiket’s 2005 video installation “Are You Thai or Not?”, courtesy of the artist)

BANGKOK -- For art historians and art scenes the world over, the question of when and how contemporary art began is vexing yet vital. Typically, an answer of sorts is found in a late-20th century period when a paradigm shift in artistic approach, forms or mediums took place, or in a group of artists who shook off the mantle of modernism.

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